Thursday, September 2, 2010

Out of context

Posted on Thu, Sep 2, 2010 at 4:00 AM

I feel it necessary to write a letter that better explains my perspective relating to the article written in the Independent, in which I’m quoted.

First of all, the comments that I was quoted as saying were part of an hour conversation and were absolutely written out of context in many regards. I was part of the Chris Spurgeon search but had no interaction with any member of Missoula County Search and Rescue (SAR) during that incident. I have talked to those that have, but have none other than third-person opinions.

I believe that (and stated so to the Independent reporter) Missoula County SAR members are capable, competent and selflessly motivated individuals that volunteer their time to help in the rescue and recovery of people that have “taken a wrong turn” on their adventure. In what I can only assume is the highest percentage of the rescues that SAR is involved with, the lost hiker or hunter, boater or camper is lucky to have such willing and capable folks out looking to help them “find their way” back to safety. I feel (and again, stated several times during my “interview”) that I can do nothing but applaud the willingness of those folks involved in SAR to get up in the dark of night to hike into the mountains, sometimes in the rain, to find some outdoor enthusiast who has been injured or lost. Most of us are far from willing to do such a thing and we, as a community, are extremely lucky to have folks like them among us.

My comments were only related to a very particular type of accident and my sentiment was less about a lack of confidence in their service and more about being self-reliant or reliant on the partners that you have chosen to “tie in with” while doing an activity that involves a known objective hazard. Although it is my opinion that the most qualified people to help me or my partners in tricky terrain are those of us that have years of experience to draw from while participating in our chosen activities, I mostly wanted to make the point that no one in that community expects our county’s SAR team to feel it necessary to risk, or even train to risk, while attempting a rescue in steep and/or dangerous terrain. If a friend fell high on a mixed ice and rock route in Glacier National Park, we all have an unspoken protocol that centers around self-reliance and involves only those we know and trust can possibly help in such a technical and hazardous position. This is because we are aware of the desire to not create more victims and the time it takes to coordinate so that none of the individuals on Missoula’s SAR team are put in harm’s way for us. Does that make sense? This is and has been my opinion, feeling of responsibility and life philosophy when flying or climbing in the mountains but was in no way intended to show any disrespect or lack of appreciation for the volunteers of the Missoula County SAR team.

When I was quoted as saying that “I don’t have any confidence in the level of experience and/or skill of Missoula County SAR,” it was strictly in relation to scenarios involving an experienced athlete(s) having an accident, deep in “tiger country” involving a high degree of technical skill to get to, not as a general statement relating to most of what they do so well.

The sarcastic and derogatory comment involving compasses and handheld flashlights was an “off the record” comment relating to an experience that I had with a SAR team over 15 years ago and had no relation to anybody on the Missoula SAR team or Chris Spurgeon’s recovery effort. I feel the reporter must have stuck that one in to fulfill some need for the controversial feel he was after for the article.

Again, I have nothing but respect and appreciation for the countless folks who are willing to do what most people are not. Our community shouldn’t have a lack of confidence in our county’s SAR team but, more to the point, our community (me included) should continue to try to make decisions that don’t allow for strangers to risk their own comfort and safety to rescue any of us.

Jeff Shapiro


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